Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Song of the day

"A Little Lost", by Jens Lekman. One thing about eMusic is that it is inclined to hide its leading lights under a bushel. An example is "Four Songs By Arthur Russell", a self-explanatory offering collated by our hero of the moment, Jens Lekman, and featuring one song by Jens himself. One tackles an Arthur Russell song at one's own peril, Russell himself being such a singular artist, but Jens is up to the challenge. In fact, the entire record (or digital equivalent) is highly worthy of your attention.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Song of the day

Three songs actually: "What A Day That Was", "Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)" and "Light Bath", by David Byrne. I had forgotten that not that long ago I picked up for very little money the complete David Byrne score for the Twyla Tharp dancepiece "The Catherine Wheel". Heard in its entirety it is even more impressive than the original vinyl release (even if its highlights are the same highlights) and proves that Byrne didn't need Brian Eno to prop him up. (The music throughout, perhaps unsurprisingly, sits somewhere between "Remain In Light" and "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts", particularly "Mountain Of Needles" from the latter.) The three songs listed above comprise the final ten minutes of the score, and are, in a word, thrilling.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Song of the day

"Black Crow", by Linda Hoyle. With thanks to the always interesting Art Decade. Art Decade claims to specialise in the music of the "long seventies", which I would put as the years 1966 to 1983, wherein, of course, can be found most of the best music ever made. (I could mount, I think, a compelling argument that one build a near-perfect music collection drawing only on this range of years. Obviously significant musical markers would be missed, but, as I have recently discovered (more later), you can't listen to everything or you'll likely go mad.)

Anyway, speaking of levels of obsessiveness (we have and we will be), in tracking down information on this wonderful piece of piano-and-guitar-driven, what, psych-folk-rock?, female Todd Rundgren?, proto-Quatro?, I fell upon a seemingly bottomless website entirely devoted to records bearing the Vertigo "swirl", with a depth of detail and, I suppose, "scholarship" that defies belief. Seriously, I am not worthy. Take a look for yourself, and get lost. (Literally.) Sample: "6360 061
not released in Britain, BUT IT WAS RELEASED IN PERU!
please refer to the Peru page." It is sentences like those that make life worth living.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Neil Young: Reprise

If one good thing has come out of the release by Neil Young of an album entitled "Chrome Dreams II", it is the appearance, in various corners of the Internet, of diverse collections of songs claiming to be a digital simulacrum of the original "Chrome Dreams", which was scheduled for release in 1978 but shelved in favour of one of his lesser regarded efforts, "American Stars 'n' Bars". What you hear may not be as Neil intended, but it certainly fits in with the overall character of his 1970s oeuvre. Which is to say, it's all over the place, but frequently in a good way.

And, if you pick up your copy from Aquarium Drunkard, be sure to also acquire what must be a world first: a bonus disc of "extra tracks" - for a bootleg release of an "album" that may never have even existed. What will they think of next?

Stylus quote of the week

From Andrew Iliff's otherwise over-my-head (and ultimately futile) Roxy Music career overview (there was never just one "Roxy Music", lending itself to a career trajectory as such; there were three distinct, and entirely separate, "Roxy Musics"), this quote stands out as a beautiful summation of Brian Eno's involvement with two bands, a decade apart:
If there is a Roxy/U2 succession - from one doubtfully coiffed anthemic narcissist in the service of Brian Eno's closeted rock star animus to the next ...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Krautrock artifact of the day

This looks interesting.

Bumper sticker of the week

Hello to the Canberra driver whose car bears the message "Republicans For Voldemort". (And good luck in next year's presidential election.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Song of the day

"My Soul, My Soul", by Richard Thompson. I borrowed a couple of recent Richard Thompson CDs from the local library. RT as an album artist is a difficult proposition. In fact, Fairport Convention aside, there is only really one individual RT album that bears the designation "instant classic": you know which one (it's actually Richard and Linda together, not incidentally). Otherwise, his albums are a bit all over the place. Which makes the standout nature of the three-disc compilation "Watching The Dark" such a surprise. Although perhaps it shouldn't be. The signal achievement of RT is his guitar playing. Whether or not it is matched to compatible songwriting, it is never less than excellent on its own terms. But it's not always so matched. "Front Parlour Ballads", from which this song comes, is as good a case in point as any. There are a few quite good songs; a few that just drift by; a few that just seem to have dropped off the conveyor belt, having bypassed quality control. (Oh, I really do hate it when I have to say negative things about my heroes.) But stunning playing all through. (I can also listen to his voice irrespective of context, but that's not for everybody.) Nevertheless, you are hardly going to reach for this disc off the shelf in preference to any of your otherwise favourite records (RT or otherwise).

Still, "My Soul, My Soul" would fit readily onto any RT collection. It comes from what I consider to be the Fairport Convention end of his various song "types". Which is a good place for a Richard Thompson song to reside.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Song of the day

"It Happened", by Dirty Three. Because it was the first song I heard this morning after an extended stop-off at the National Library's cafe, in order to finish the third book of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, "The Amber Spyglass". There were silent tears. I stepped out into the light.

This song, like life itself, is fleetingly beautiful.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Song of the day

"The Nurse", by The White Stripes. To me, this sounds like Hot Chip trying to lay down one of their smooth indie pop grooves in the studio, with Animal from the Muppets crashing the party in his own inimitable style. Plus, as the boys pointed out, the start of the song is identical to the Rugrats theme music.

Also, I must have heard the song "My Doorbell" a couple of hundred times, without for a minute suspecting it was by White Stripes. Actually, I don't know if I ever really thought about who it was by, but I had in mind someone like Amerie or someone of that ilk. Which, I hope, is some kind of a compliment to their being able to pull off what I think they were trying to do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I still the internet

Even though I can't be in New York , I can, thanks to modern technology, sit back comfortably to watch this public fireside chat between New Yorker editor David Remnick and prized investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. It is a fascinating evening's entertainment, not only for the typically incisive and frightening things Hersh has to say about the present administration, but also for giving a rare insight into the relationship between writer and editor, a relationship which sits somewhere between that of employer and employee on the one hand, and husband and wife on the other.

If it's done right. And the New Yorker has always done it right. You can also see glimpses here of why David Remnick was the right person to be handed the baton. Five editors in 82 years: that's a weighty ball to drop (I would argue, in the minority, that Tina Brown didn't drop it at all, but rather reinflated it and kept it in play), and Remnick looks to have what it takes. Which, exactly, I have no idea what that is. But Remnick himself writes, he digs for stories, so he understands, and relates well with, a guy like Hersh. Anyway, watch the video.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Song of the day

"Down by the River", by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The deeper I descend into this perilous Neil Young phase of mine, the more I get the feeling that Young, like Dylan, is not an artist who can, or even wants to, be defined in terms of individual albums. Rather, he puts out albums as occasional collections of Songs Wot I Wrote. In this respect, "Decade" works for Young as "Biograph" worked for Dylan (and as the new "Dylan" set doesn't), as a much better summary of (one part of) a career. Note the extensive inclusion, in both cases, of non-album and even unreleased tracks, not the usual fare for retrospectives of Big Name Artists.

Anyway, of Neil Young's "major" albums, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" comes perhaps closest to embodying a unified aesthetic vision. It may well be a mess, but it is a mess that is all of one type. And it is frequently a glorious mess. Nowhere more so than "Down by the River", 11 minutes of twin-guitar grind. Back in the late 1970s, when I used to read Rolling Stone from cover to cover, someone once wrote, I think in relation to "Rust Never Sleeps", that Crazy Horse are a band that manage to sound fast by playing slow. Or something like that. (The particular reference may have been to "Welfare Mothers".) I think this song also gives an clue as to what that writer was getting at; and that he or she (most likely he) wasn't far from the mark, notwithstanding how ridiculous it seemed to me when I read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Song of the day

"Words of Wisdom", by Cedric Im Brooks & The Light of Saba. From the album "Cedric Im Brooks & The Light of Saba", which is one of a long list of albums that have long been known to me by reputation alone. Well, this one at least I have now heard, and it proves to be a joyful amalgam of musical styles ranging from ska, reggae and 1970s soul to African music (in some places the Africa of Fela Kuti, in others that of Mulatu Astatke, whom Jim Jarmusch brought to some degree of notice by way of his underrated most recent film, "Broken Flowers"). This particular song is at the soulful roots reggae end of the spectrum, and is distinguished, as is the entire album, by some really lovely horn work.

Presumably "The Light of Saba" does not refer to a furniture showroom that existed in Melbourne in the early 1980s.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

By Chance

1. "Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey: Uncle Gabby"

It was a slow library day, so on spec I borrowed the above, being a short graphic novel / sequential pictorial narrative story / comic book written and drawn by Tony Millionaire (coloured by someone else, and colour is an important part of its charm, but still). I had seen Millionaire's name around the traps, but if he is also millionaire by nature it is no thanks to me. Well, I read it and was staggered. It is really, really good. Most solo graphic novelists work in a kind of alchemy which allows them to offer a finished product that is greater than you would expect from considering just their individual story-writing and drawing skills. Adrian Tomine, for example, as much as I like his stuff, still has a way to go as a writer. But it is good enough to allow him to become a fine graphic novelist and not just a purveyor of gorgeous New Yorker covers. Seth, of course, is a genius at both drawing and writing; so is Kevin Huizenga; but such is rare. Even Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, wonderful though they both are, would perhaps seem less than that if their writing and their drawing both had to stand up on their own. (None of this is meant as individual criticism. Those of us who can neither write nor draw can only look on in awe at these freaks of nature.) But this simple little book, about the adventures of a few old stuffed toys, demonstrates real talent in both the writing and drawing departments. Being the good scientist, I tested my theory. It was a delight to look at. It was a pleasure to read. Together, hey, it was unstoppable. I need to dig further.

2. Gillian Welch

Yesterday I fluked upon an iTunes-only live EP by Gillian Welch, released early 2006, about which I previously knew nothing. $5.07 (Australian) later, it was on my hard drive. And was money well spent, not only but including because it reminded me of the hauntingly perfect show they put on in Canberra a couple of years back. Their version of "Pocahontas" is a beautiful take on a beautiful song, and ties in scarily well with my current Neil Young obsession. (Presumably I wasn't the only obsessive to be eluded by this: it isn't mentioned in Stylus's extraordinarily thorough runthrough of Neil Young covers.)

3. Life Without Buildings

Straight to the top of bands I can't believe I never knew existed. Their sole studio album, "Any Other City", comes at me from the place where all the great albums come from. Which, I'm not sure exactly where that place is, but to be simplistic about it (if only because this record gets me in a way that is too personal for words), they sound not unlike if you combined, say, Television and The Feelies, and threw a female Mark E Smith in front (in that the singer declaims rather than sings, and seems as interested, in a lovely way, with the sounds words make as with the words themselves), if Mark E Smith were ever to sing about matters of the heart. None of which does this magnificent record justice. And to think, if they hadn't released a posthumous live album called, I think, "Live at the Annandale Hotel", and if the Annandale Hotel, in Sydney, wasn't a name I associate with another group that still mean more to me than I can put into words, The Cannanes, then I probably wouldn't have given Life Without Buildings a second thought other than to note that their name sounds like a couple of Talking Heads songs mashed in a blender.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Song of the day

"Christmas", by Beat Happening. Which appears on the CD version of their first, self-titled LP. And in which Calvin, in the lowest of lo-fi surroundings, succinctly and accurately defines the human condition: "Disappointment. Heartache. Pain."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The hypothetical mixtape series: September 2007

It's still October, so it can't possibly be time for the September hypothetical mixtape. And yet.

The Notekillers, "Clock Wise". A few years ago, I did some volunteer work with Melbourne radio station 3PBS (if WFMU did not exist, PBS might lay some claim to being the best radio station in the world; seriously). Anyway, one of the presenters was a mild-mannered bank manager, always neat and tidy, dressed in suit and tie. The only hint that something was amiss was a pair of razor-sharp sideburns. This guy, it turns out, was the presenter of a heavy metal show called something like "The Red Stink of Metal". Who knew? But a couple of years prior to this, I might have been that guy. There I was, living in a country town, working as a solicitor, suit and tie, etc, going home at night to a diet of loud, heavy guitars. Big Black. Husker Du. Feedtime. Sonic Youth. Band of Susans. Ut. Dinosaur Jr. Minutemen. And if it wasn't guitars it was industrial noise. Einsturzende Neubauten, for example. Or John Zorn's headkicking Ornette Coleman "tribute" "Spy Vs Spy". Yes, that was me. (One of the highlights of those years was finding on the doorstep a parcel of records airmailed from a certain Doctor Jim, who was then on a world tour and, I suppose, figured that someone might as well be listening to his stash while he remained o/s.) Again, who knew? (Before long, Adrienne was quick to disabuse me of the notion that music had to be in some way unpleasant or "difficult" to be worthy of attention; one only of the many things for which I am eterally grateful to her.) Point? Oh yes, The Notekillers, of whom I had no knowledge at all until a couple of tracks appeared on the wonderful Art Decade, would have fitted perfectly into my listening schedule. So perfectly that I feel I owe them an apology: where was I when they needed me?

Junior Senior, "Move Your Feet". The moral of that story being, I can now happily jump around the house to songs like this. I think that makes me a better, more well-rounded person. Or a sad, pathetic sell-out.

Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, "Scarborough Fair". And yet, even through those dark and twisted days, the magic of op-shop records was always there. This version of a song I have long deemed unlistenable is gorgeous, up there with their version of "My Favourite Things", which Adrienne says outdoes even Coltrane, and in my weaker moments I can almost agree.

Cibo Matto, "Sugar Water (Acoustic)". To paraphrase the very wise Roy Slaven and H G Nelson, too many versions of this song are barely enough.

Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges, "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser". It must be time for a Brazilian. Or two.

Gimmicks, "California My Way". Perfect for the approaching antipodean summer, which looks like being long and hot.

Reigning Sound, "When You Touch Me". Loud fast rules.

The Come Ons, "Keep The Change". I love (a) the organ and (b) the album title ("Hip Check") and (c) the album cover. Oh, and the guitar. Plus the fact that they have put out a seven-inch single entitled "Play Selections From The Fran├žoise Hardy Songbook".

The Professionals, "Theme From The Godfather". This may be the greatest four minutes of music I have ever heard. And (obviously) I am not even exaggerating.

Belbury Poly, "Tangled Beams". So this is Hauntology? It reminds me of Broadcast, actually. They probably frequent the same library.

Hanne Hukkelberg, "Do Not As I Do". It wouldn't be a hypothetical mixtape without some warm and friendly Scandinavian pop.

Rheingold, "DreiKlangsDimensionen". Not exactly krautrock, but not exactly not krautrock, I am guessing this is of the genre known as NDV. It must be from the end of the seventies. But I don't know and I don't really care. It's stunning.

Seelenluft, "Horse With No Name". Ooh look, another song that by rights should have gone to the knackers' yard long ago. But here it is, stripped of its America(n)ness, and I could happily listen to it all day. The guy who wrote this song was on Spicks and Specks not so long ago. He seemed like a nice chap.

The Memory Band, "This Is How We Walk On The Moon". It's an Arthur Russell song. Do I need to say anything more? I suppose, if you needed a reference point, you might think Four Tet plus a violin. If you had to.

Amorphous Androgynous, "Go Tell It To The Trees Egghead". This is what "Astral Weeks" might have sounded like if it didn't have Van Morrison wailing away over the top of it and generally getting in the way. (Obviously, I don't mean that at all.) Curiously, Amorphous Androgynous is actually Future Sound Of London, whom I have long felt I should get to know a bit better.

Mouse On Mars, "Schnick-schnack". And a little voice said, "That sounds like her from Stereolab". And so it came to pass, presumably done as a payback for the work MOM did with Stereolab on "Dots and Loops", still I think my favourite Stereolab record, even in the face of fierce competition from almost any other Stereolab record.

Beck, "Cellphone's Dead (Villalobos Entlebuch Remix)". Ricardo Villalobos does this interesting trick with time. Take this song. At around the five minute mark you start to think, Okay, I'm about done with this. And then, before you know it, 12 minutes have passed, and you find that you have gone to another place and back again. Without even noticing. And it happens every time. I don't know how he does it.

Song of the day

"Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread", by Bob Dylan, with The Band, from "The Basement Tapes". I have no idea why. It is completely silly, disarmingly so (hence its charm?), but the music offers the best kind of understated but definitely forward momentum.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Song of the day

"Drowning In You", by Pluramon. This is brand new Pluramon, allegedly from a forthcoming LP. I find it difficult to "read" individual Pluramon songs absent any kind of context; a bit like looking at a panoramic view through a keyhole. But this one sounds pretty nice, and bodes well for the new record.

Anyway, new Pluramon songs don't come around all that often, so a week that starts with one must surely be going to be a good week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Your bad

More on climate change. You can't really argue with this. At least, you shouldn't be able to. But somebody will. And that somebody will have much more power and influence than you.

Song of the day

"Walk On", by Neil Young. I am heavily into a big Neil Young phase at the moment (it was bound to happen sooner or later). I am being guided primarily by Woebot's recommendations. I last followed Neil Young back in 1979, when I was 15, with "Rust Never Sleeps". Now I am going backwards, not forwards. You never know what you are going to find. "Walk On", the opening song from "On The Beach" (1974), brings to mind nothing so much as De La Soul; it carries a particular lilt that they would have been proud of. Other parts of "On The Beach" bring to mind (for a brief fragment) Marine Girls and (first minute of "Ambulance Blues") Robert Forster. Neil Young predicts the future. It is perhaps no wonder the album didn't find its place in the world until 29 years after it was first released.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Things I learned today

That Sputnik was no bigger than a basketball. I had never really thought about this before. I don't know how big I would have thought it would have been, but I would have thought it would have been, you know, big.

That before they put those guys on the moon no human being had ever seen Earth from space. Again, I had never really thought about it. But it is pretty amazing, isn't it? I wonder what we thought it would look like. And how it made people feel to actually see where we sit in the bigger picture. It might have stopped people from starting wars, for instance. Except it didn't. Now we have Google Earth allowing us to sit at our desks spinning that little ball all day, like the gods we are. Or something.

Song of the day

"Impossible (Possible remake by Studio)", by the Shout Out Louds. About the Shout Out Louds I know less than nothing. But this song will stay on repeat until the end of time. Its blend of Cure and New Order early-80s old (not New) romanticism sends my mind drifting back to a time when everything was good, and the world was indeed a World of Possibility. I haven't heard the original song, if indeed there is one, but to me this sounds more Studio than Shout Out Louds. Apologies to the latter if I am wrong in this.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

If not I'll just die

I created a YSI link for The Reels' take on "This Guy's In Love (With You)", from the K-Tel "Beautiful" album, for the comments box of Marcello's new venture. If anyone else is interested in hearing this fine Australian cover version, all you have to do is go here. Don't thank me, thank Dave Mason. And buy "Reelsville", his new album wherein he "covers" his own songs (including "covers" of his own previous covers of other people's songs: hey, kids, post-modernism).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Song of the day

"A Sad Lament", by Orange Juice. "Texas Fever", although it contains only six songs, has always been my Orange Juice of choice. I thought it came closest to Edwyn Collins' presumed vision of a merger of Motown with the Velvet Underground, and with a minimum of (a) outside interference and (b) delusions of stardom. Pure speculation on my part admittedly. If the final 75 seconds of "A Sad Lament" have a fault, it is simply that they are only 75 seconds, and not the five minutes or so that are clearly warranted. Well, that's what the rewind button is for, I guess. (The what?)